Friday, September 25, 2020

Gov’t turns down assistance from the alcohol industry

The government turned down an offer of 150 breathalyser kits from liquor traders. Each police station in Botswana would have been given two kits and at their own expense, the traders would have trained police officers on the proper use of these contraptions.

This offer was part of a package of proposals extended to the government after it asked the traders to submit an alternative to the alcohol levy. The proposals came to naught and the government is going ahead with its plans to implement a 30 percent levy on alcoholic beverages.

The traders’ plan, which is spread out over a year, would have taken effect two months ago and have been implemented over a year, ending June next year.

It would have started with the presentation of harsher penalties “to serve as a deterrent to alcohol abuse” presented by the Alcohol Trust to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Charges for driving under the influence ranged from P1000 toP10 000; selling alcohol to minors would have attracted a penalty fee between P100 and P5000; and, a maximum fine of P2000 for being a public nuisance, P2000 for retailers who sell to “clearly intoxicated persons” and P5000 for intoxicated patrons.

This month would have seen the adoption of the National Alcohol Policy by the government. The policy, which was formulated by the traders, was submitted to the government more than two years ago but none of its recommendations is reflected in the new laws that were introduced recently.
When the now controversial liquor law was mooted and the trade minister went around the country to canvass for support, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited quietly joined the fray and went to considerable expense doing so. At one point, the company hired an Australian alcohol expert to facilitate a workshop for health professionals, businesspeople and legislators at the Gaborone International Convention Centre.

In terms of the draft proposal presented to the government, October 30 would have been the deadline for the launch of a website (www.talkingalcohol.com) which would have provided “balanced and accurate information about alcohol.” Planned for similar date was the creation of a trust fund in partnership with relevant government departments and other liquor producers under the stewardship of the KBL and Botswana Breweries Limited. The draft says that producers would provide money to be invested in the fund and interest accruing from it used to sponsor programmes “aimed at reducing alcohol-related problems in Botswana such as underage drinking, drunk driving, excessive consumption and intoxication”.

The Alcohol Trust would have undertaken “comprehensive research programme to provide evidence-based information on the drinking patterns in Botswana” to “allow more targeted interventions.” Bar staff would have been trained on responsible serving practices which would have included understanding alcohol and its impact, their responsibilities regarding the serving of alcohol, understanding the law and dealing with intoxicated consumers.
“The target will be to train all retailers in the major centers before moving on to smaller areas,” the draft proposal says.

This trust would also have serialized a book titled “Drinking in Context” in “a reputable newspaper” over a three-month period. KBL and BBL would also have adopted a new corporate code of conduct and employee policy through which staff would have been trained “in the principles of moderate consumption and responsible marketing and promotions.”

In order to curb under-age drinking, traders proposed the amendment of trading conditions by making a requirement that would have compelled all retail outlets to “insist on proof of age of purchasers of alcohol products who appear to be 18 years old or younger.” By the same token, a policy of “stop-supply” would have been applied on retailers who would not have complied with the age-restriction policy. Ensuring compliance with the law would also have entailed a “mystery-shopping” programme and engaging an audit firm to implement it. Surveillance of mystery shoppers would also have been used as a safeguard against under-age drinking.

By the end of this year (December 31) a comprehensive, on-premise point-of-sale campaign aimed at deterring underage drinking and excessive drinking would have been in full swing. Drink-driving would have been tackled by way of a road safety and drink-driving programmes involving the support of the police, the media and other stakeholders. This Christmas would also have introduced Botswana drinkers to the launch of “a low/no alcohol beer making it by far the lowest alcohol content alcohol beverage in Botswana.”

Attention would also have paid to at-risk groups like pregnant women by educating them about possible medical harm (notably foetal alcohol syndrome) that could result from drinking alcohol in their condition. Help in the implementation of this programme would have been sought from the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Education would also have been involved in public awareness campaigns targeting the youth.

The foreword of the report warns about a slew of consequences that could result from the introduction of the levy: 42 000 people in the alcohol value chain losing their jobs; smuggling and bootlegging and related problems; problem drinkers switching to more potent, lower-quality beverages; ordinary Batswana suffering losses on the stock exchange; Botswana losing its attractiveness as a destination for inward investment; an incremental impact on inflation by about 5.7 percent; and, a loss of at least 1 percent of GDP.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Masisi creates his own “deep state”?

The government enclave is discussing a new law that will expand the president’s overreach and make it easier for the Directorate of...